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Sharon Ready to Accept US-Backed Peace Plan - 2003-05-23

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon announced Friday that he is ready to accept the U.S. backed "road map" to peace plan. Mr. Sharon says he will now present the plan to his Cabinet for approval.

Mr. Sharon's statement follows weeks of hesitation and came just hours after the Bush administration assured Israel that its concerns over the "road map" would be taken into account.

He says he now is ready to accept the steps which are outlined in the plan and will now seek government approval.

His commitment followed a joint statement issued earlier by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

Their statement said the U.S. administration shares the view that Israel's concerns about the plan are real and will be addressed fully and seriously in the implementation of the "road map".

Mr. Sharon said that in view of the U.S. administration's comments, he is now able to issue his own statement of support.

It is believed that he will win a majority of the cabinet, when the issue comes up for debate, probably on Sunday.

The "road map" calls for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

It is sponsored by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has said his leadership supports the plan and is seeking no changes to the document.

But Mr. Abbas has so far failed to convince Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, to back the "road map".

He met with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip Thursday, the first such talks since he took office three weeks ago.

Hamas rejected his appeal to suspend attacks on Israelis in order to give the Palestinian leadership a chance to succeed in negotiations.

The meeting followed the launching of four suicide bombings by Hamas last week, including one in Jerusalem that killed seven Israelis on a commuter bus.

On Friday, Hamas also set off an explosion near a bus in the Gaza Strip, wounding nine Israelis.